There’s an abundance of advice around preparing for exams and the toll that it can take on students’ mental health and wellbeing, but what’s discussed less is nerves in the build up to results day.
We spoke with Juliette Caron Loiret-Bernal and Dr Lottie Wood, school counsellors at Collège Alpin Beau Soleil, about some simple practices that parents can use to calm their children as they approach results day.
Over the years they’ve supported countless students in navigating the emotional challenges around exams and results. They’ve found that the following tips often helped to calm anxieties and provide a sense of balance during what’s a stressful time for young people.
1. The power of listening
As parents, it’s a natural response to feel that it’s our duty to come up with an immediate solution to any anxieties our children are facing. But one of the most helpful things we can do is to give them the space to talk and express themselves. Other people are going through this too. So be ready to accept their feelings , normalise it and encourage them to let it out.
In psychology, we often talk about the need to “connect before you correct”. It’s the idea that you should first allow time for the child to express their emotions and receive an empathic response, before getting into any kind of problem-solving with them. Our brains are not in a good place to think clearly and problem-solve when we’re feeling stressed. Soothing the emotions then enables children to engage in a helpful and productive conversation. In terms of “connecting with” or validating the emotion, try a simple statement reflecting something your child has said. If they aren’t saying anything, making a guess at how you think they are feeling — “I’m guessing you might be feeling really overwhelmed by this” – along with perhaps a hug, , or a gentle hand on their shoulder will help reassure them.
2. Plan for every outcome
Plan, plan, plan! This is probably the most important of the three tips. Planning for outcomes, and talking to your child about them, can ease the anxiety of the experience.
Remind your child that there are always options, even if they aren’t what they’d originally envisioned. Anxious teenagers tend to catastrophise — it’s natural, but as parents it’s an opportunity to remind them about the bigger picture: education is a life-long process. Whether it is thinking about other universities or courses, considering a gap year to travel, or being prepared to call the first-choice university in case the conditions of the offer are not met, your child’s anxiety can ease off by simply establishing a plan. Brain storming for solutions and putting together a plan is half the battle. There is always another opportunity, even if it might not feel that way for your child.
It’s important to have these conversations with your child before results day — that you’ll develop a plan with them And, just as importantly as their school being with them every step of the way, so will you.
3. Make life feel as normal as possible!
It may sound obvious, but getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, keeping busy, seeing friends, making life feel as normal as possible and having a routine is helpful.
Having a routine building up to results day will keep your child busy, but it will also put them in a better frame of mind. And, most importantly, it keeps their mind away from overthinking. Also, try to encourage your child to stay away from social media as they approach results day. Other students’ fears and uncertainty could magnify their own feelings.
4. We’re all different
Results day is a funny beast—it can feel like students have woken up on a random day in July to find – or what they think is - their entire future laid out in front of them. In reality, it’s just another step on a path they’ve been on since nursery and will continue on for the rest of their lives. It’s also easy for students to compare themselves to their peers but, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “comparison is the thief of joy”! Everyone’s learning path is different.
5. Final thought
A final thought is to be aware of our own feelings as parents. It’s normal for us all to have hopes and aspirations for our children, it’s only natural for us to want the best for them. We need to model calmness and flexibility, especially if things don’t go to plan: whilst acknowledging your child’s emotions, you can reframe this as an opportunity for learning and developing resilience.
Results days are stressful and complicated, and that’s why it’s important for us as schools and as parents to help as best as we can.